Depression is a mental illness that affects people of all ages. Despite sharing the same symptoms as adults, depression in children often goes unnoticed and untreated. Children who are depressed may be misunderstood as being shy, difficulty, or misbehaved.
Some of these symptoms might present differently in children than in adults. For example, a child who is feeling sad or irritable most of the time might present as child who is clingy, aggressive, crying often, or difficult to console. A child who has lost interest in activities may become uninterested in socializing or playing games. For school difficulties, this might be seen through a child that is exhibiting poor concentration in school, having behavioral issues, is socially withdrawn, or has falling grades.
When children have a family history of depression, they are more likely to develop depression themselves. Experiencing stressful or traumatic events, such as bullying, parental conflict, divorce, moving, a death in the family, or the birth of a sibling can trigger depression. However, depression can also develop without one of these events. Often times depression in children can co-occur with anxiety, ADHD, and other behavioral disorders.
Ways Parents Can Provide Support
Parents play a critical role in the treatment of childhood depression. This is done by maintaining a supportive environment and fostering healthy habits. Below are some strategies that parents can implement at home to create a supportive environment.
Children often thrive with routine. If parents can create a daily routine, this will reduce stress by creating predictability for the child. For a starting point, parents can begin by creating a routine around meals and bedtime, by making it at the same time, and in a similar way, everyday. It can be helpful to think of routines as a general outline for the day, rather than a minute by minute schedule. Routines should not be super rigid and leave room for some free time, such as talking and playing.
Like stated above, one of the common symptoms of depression is a loss of interest in activities. When this happens, children become less active, which causes depression to worsen. Parents should make a point to schedule activities their child typically finds enjoyable. These activities can be simple, such as playing outside, board games with family, watching a movie, or cooking their favorite meal. This can help create more opportunities for increased mood.
Sleep problems, whether too much or too little, are often associated with depression and can lead children to often feeling tired throughout the day. Parents can help to improve sleep quality by turning off screens an hour before bed, winding down with relaxing activities, and following a regular schedule with consistent sleep and wake times. It can be helpful to stick with these habits even on weekends or special occasions.
Parents it can often be tempting to let your child stay home when they are experiencing depression. However, letting your child stay home will reinforce their isolation. Scheduling social visits and phone calls or helping your child choose activities, such as sports or classes can help your child to stay connected with their peers. If some of these activities are too overwhelming, start small and gradually add more activities over time.
A Chance to Talk
Just like adults need to talk, sometimes your child may benefit from having the change to just talk. This can be done by making it part of your child’s routine by taking a few minutes to talk to them about their day. The goal of this should be to do a general check in and ask your child how they are doing and learning about what is happening in their world. During this time, parents should avoid judging or giving advice, unless it is requested.
Children often have a lot of stress in their life between school, homework, peers, siblings, and chores. Practicing relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and mindfulness is a great way for your child to manage their stress. In order to gain the most benefit of these exercises, it is best to practice them daily.
Parents it is important to remember that you are not responsible for curing your child’s depression. Your unconditional love and support is the most valuable tool that you can provide during these . Additionally, it is important that you make time for self care while you are supporting your child with depression. Remember, that it is okay to take a break just for you and to make sure you are getting adequate sleep, nutrition, exercising, and taking time to relax.
When To Seek Additional Support
Take any mention of suicide seriously. If you feel that someone is in danger, don’t hesitate to call 911, take them to an emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for free and confidential support available 24/7.
Parents if you are noticing that your child is experiencing symptoms of depression which last longer than two weeks and is causing significant distress, such as interfering with school, peers, activities, work, or other areas of life, you should consider reaching out to a professional for additional support. Therapy can help your child learn coping and communication skills and help your child manage symptoms of depression. Some common types of therapy include play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and family therapy.
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialized in assisting children and families with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about me and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation.